Travelling home by train – why not? It seemed a fitting conclusion to our holiday, and we really enjoy train travel. The Northern Explorer has undergone quite a major update since we last travelled on it, and the carriages were looking very grand indeed. It was pouring with rain when we boarded in Auckland, and settled back to enjoy our trip.
We slowly chugged through the suburbs, stopping at Papatoetoe, Papakura and Pukekoe to collect passengers – by this stage the carriages were filling up fast. No time for breakfast with our early morning start, so I decided it must be coffee time.
Coffee time, and looking through our carriage
The train stopped in Hamilton, one of the few stops that the passengers were allowed off to stretch their legs. The rain had stopped and the weather was starting to brighten up by this stage.
Stretching our legs at Hamilton Station
The farmland flashed by, with all the paddocks looking so nice and green. We passed herds of beef cattle, milking herds, plenty of sheep of course, a few pigs, alpacas, horses and goats.
And look at that – all those golf carts lined up at Okahukura, the final stage of the Forgotten Worlds Adventures gold cart trips, bringing back memories of our own 22 Tunnels Trip several years ago. We whizzed by much too quick to take a photo out of the window though. Then we went through Taumaruni on the main truck line – didn’t somebody write a song about that?
With the world famous Raurimu Spiral coming up fast, Robin departed for the open air carriage behind the engine with his camera. The railway line follows an ascending spiral southwards, with two relatively short tunnels, a circle and three hairpin bends - it is a notable feat of civil engineering, having been called an “engineering masterpiece”.
Looking back at the curved railway line
The many car wrecks at Horopito Motors passed by – we visited here a wee while ago. This business is known to one and all as Smash Palace, as it featured in the New Zealand film of the same name in 1981.
Smash Palace at Horopito
A couple of soldiers in our carriage departed at National Park Station, and then we passed by the cheeky snowman at Ohakune.
National Park and Ohakune
This rather insignificant waterway is the Whangaehu River. At 10.21 p.m. on Christmas Eve 1953 the Wellington–Auckland night express plunged into the flooded Whangaehu River at Tangiwai, with the loss of 151 lives. The tragedy was caused by the collapse of the tephra dam holding back nearby Mount Ruapehu's crater lake, creating a large lahar in the Whangaehu River, which destroyed one of the bridge piers at Tangiwai only minutes before the train reached the bridge. The disaster remains New Zealand's worst rail accident.
Whangaehu River and Mt Ruapehu
We passed over viaducts, over rivers, through farmland and native bush, travelling ever southwards through Rangitikei, past Flat Hills and Marton. I’m sure we nodded off now and again as our eyelids got heavy. Then the train pulled into Palmerston North and our journey was over. What a welcome we received, thunder, lightening and torrential rain! Just as well that our friends Geoff and Eileen were waiting in their car to collect us and take us home. We paddled through deep puddles, loaded the car, and headed for home. Our journey was finally over, and it was great to arrive back home.